Monday, December 27, 2010

We Make Change

In the Pathfinder Role-Playing Game (PFRPG), the monetary denominations work as follows:
  • 10 copper pieces to a silver piece
  • 10 silver pieces to a gold piece
  • 10 gold pieces to a platinum piece

Never mind for a moment that platinum coins were never used in the real world as currency. What's important here is that it's very easy in the game world to find yourself over-encumbered with thousands of copper pieces in a setting where the price of nearly everything useful is expressed in gold pieces. That's the situation Norma and Willa the dwarfs had found themselves in.

When we played today (for the first time in over two months, and boy were they excited!), the party split up into two groups. One group went to buy weapons, while the two dwarfs went after clothing and survival gear. So we would run one group for about half an hour, then switch focus to the other group, and then back again. At one point I had been with the dwarfs for a little while, talking over prices of some items a peddler was trying to sell them, and they were asking questions like, "How many copper pieces is that?" I wasn't giving answers, of course; they should tell me. They'll learn more that way. Then I had an idea.

"Tell you what," I said. "Why don't you visit a banker, and convert your coins and gems to whatever denominations you like."

Norma, played by my daughter, asked for me to tell her how much of each she could get.

"I can't help you. I've got to run the next round of their weapon shop fight," I replied, gesturing toward the other three players. "But you're welcome to figure it all out on the white board if you like. When you're done, we can buy the survival gear together."

Norma gave me the briefest of looks to convey her irritation, then said, "C'mon, Willa," and took her friend into the other room. As I was running the fight that nearly killed the other players, I glanced periodically at the two of them in the other room, working out their wealth and how they wanted to carry it around. Fifteen minutes later they were ready to shop. Not the hardest math in the world, but useful for keeping their skills sharp over the holiday break.

As they carry their wealth to other civilizations, the exchange rates are going to become more complicated. I'll need to come up with names for the coins, like "Sernese Crowns" and "Nimorean Dachyas," as opposed to gold pieces from one place or another. The coins will be different sizes and weights. And as the kids get older, we can make the value of gold itself vary from place to place, or over time.

There are plenty of economic lessons to be learned using RPGs.


  1. I assume you will have the banker take a cut on any exchanges he makes? I'd suggest he take a 2% cut for exchanges.

  2. Ooo! And you could have an occasion on which someone is trying to pay the girls in an awkward way. Say: I'll pay you a total of 100 zirks, in platinum, or 101 zirks in copper. They'll have to decide whether to take the burden, which is worth about 99 zirks after exchange, take less money in a more convenient form.

  3. Dare I suggest that at some point a character offers them fiat money, printed or minted by some powerful government entity?

    "Benjamin Bernanke" actually sounds like an RPG character name.

  4. Tim, I love all these suggestions! Great economics education fodder.